How To Prepare Your Business Plan In Real Time
You know you need a Business Plan, right?
If you haven’t prepared one yet, it’s only because you haven’t had time, right?
But you know how important it is – you know that without one you can only struggle in the rut in your business, doing just what you’re doing now – surviving.
You know that without a clear direction and a list of critical goals that can take your business in the direction you really want it to go, you’re actually working blind.
So, let’s get you to prepare a Business Plan – if all that’s stopping you is the lack of time, here is how to write your Business Plan in one day.
First, let’s start by preparing for the Business Plan session, say, a week beforehand.
Take an hour aside and make some decisions:
- What is this Business Plan for? To guide you for the next year, or to give to an external party for say, finance?
- Who should be part of the discussions in the preparation of the Business Plan?
- Where will you hold the discussions (spoiler alert – best to book somewhere outside work so you don’t get distracted)?
- What information can you gather (financial reports, customer lists, employee lists, brochures, etc.)?
- Book the venue
- Invite the participants
- Gather the information
That’s it, you’re ready.
On the day of the Business Planning discussion, aim to start at about 8 AM and start by talking half an hour to describe the vision of what you want your business to look like when it has “succeeded”.
What drives you to own this business?
What does this “ideal” business look like? What does it do? Who does it serve? Who works in it, what type of people are they? What makes this “ideal” business different from your competitors?
From this discussion write a paragraph as your working “Vision Statement” that describes your successful business of the future.
This shouldn’t take more than half an hour – don’t be too detailed about it, don’t try to make it perfect.
The theme of the day is going to be “Perfection is the enemy of Progress”, so work to where you are satisfied you have got the key points down and keep going.
This means that through the day you will be writing quick notes, dot-points and ideas, not whole paragraphs like a book. Later you can then polish your notes and ideas into the written document.
This process allows you to prepare the direction and main principles of your Business Plan in the day, and then you can finish it off into a properly structured document.
DRILL DOWN INTO THE VISION
Now, spend the next 30 minutes fleshing out the Vision Statement from four different perspectives.
First, stand in the shoes of your customer and ask yourself: “How will this ideal customer describe my ideal business? How will they describe my products? What does my business do for this customer that they keep coming back?”
Second, change perspectives to look at your Finances and ask, “When I am successful, what will my business finances look like? What will be my sales volume? What will be my profit margins? How healthy is my cash flow? What assets will it have accumulated?”
Third, change perspectives and stand in the shoes of your future employees describing your business: “When I have achieved my Vision, what will my employees say about working there? How will they have grown and been rewarded? What will they do in the business and how will they do it?”
Finally, change perspectives again and looking at your future business systems, ask: “When I am successful what are the critical business systems that got me there, and that must be maintained perfectly all the time? What are the key systems that allow the previous perspectives to produce the results I described?”
Doing this will provide you with clues about what you have to improve and how to measure future improvements.
For example, if one of the things you believe your customers will say about you is “responsive and knowledgeable service”, then if your service is not responsive and knowledgeable, you need to improve that. To measure how successful you are in improving this, you may decide to measure how many employees understand your product well enough to answer frequently asked service questions.
This should take you to about 9 AM.
You can now set aside 45 minutes to an hour to discuss the goals you need to set.
Review your description of the improvements you will need to achieve and pick out 2 or 3 of the most important from each perspective, being those you need to improve on in the next 12 months. This should leave you with 8 to 12 “improvements” you need to make.
Then, choose 6 to 8 of the most critical, and write them as Goals for the next 12 months.
Just write them in the format: “Our goal is to (verb describing what you will do) in order to (objective) by (time).”
So, for example, the improvement of customer responsiveness might read “Our goal is to train all our service staff in order to answer 20 frequently asked questions from memory by June of next year“.
Remembering “Perfection is the enemy of Progress”, keep your pen moving throughout this time and move on when you are satisfied you have the kernel of the goal.
Let me also advise you that if you end up with more than 8 goals for the next 12 months, my practical experience is that you are over-reaching. It is far better to aim for something you can realistically achieve rather than a long list of “should do’s” that you will not have time to get to. You have the rest of your life to build a successful business – don’t try to do it in a year.
This will take you to about 10 AM.
How about a break for a coffee?
Take a 15-minute break to refresh yourself and start again at about 10.15 AM.
STRENGTHS, WEAKNESSES, OPPORTUNITIES, THREATS (SWOT)
Once you start again, we are going to take about 30 minutes to list all the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) of your business today.
Write down all your internal Strengths and Weaknesses, and all the external Opportunities and Threats that may affect your business.
An example of a Strength may be “loyal employees”. An example of a weakness in the business today: “not enough trained employees”.
An example of an Opportunity might be that “technology has made the product easier to operate” and an example of a Threat might be “new legislation could mean more paperwork and cost.”
Keep your pen moving and go on.
Then, spend the next 20 to 30 minutes (no more!) changing your focus slightly and look at the current Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats in your Customer base, your Products, and your Marketing.
After this, spend another 20 to 30 minutes to change focus and work on a list of your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats affecting your operations and production sub-systems (such as Human Resources systems, physical premises, accounts and records, legal agreements, purchasing systems, etc.)
By about 11.30 AM you should have compiled a list of fairly detailed Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats that will either:
- hinder you in making the improvements listed in your goals, or
- assist you in making those improvements.
We’re now going to spend about 30 minutes to identify some strategies on how we are going to make those improvements, by eliminating Weaknesses, building on Strengths, taking advantage of Opportunities that arise, or preparing to deal with Threats as they arise. You should aim to take until 12 to 12.30 PM when you can stop for lunch.
In order to decide on strategies, review the SWOT analysis you prepared, along with the list of improvements you need to make, that you made into your 6 to 8 goals for the year.
The exercise here is to look at where you are now (the SWOT) and where you want to go (the goals) and work out what you need to do to get from now to the goals.
It’s really not complicated because you should know your business so well that you will be able to map out a path to get from A to B.
Seriously, don’t over-complicate it by thinking this is some Business School magic.
For example, if your strength is “loyal employees” but your weakness is “not enough trained employees” and your goal is “to train all our service staff in order to answer 20 frequently asked questions from the top of their head by June of next year” then you may decide to:
- Ask key service staff to stay behind every Thursday night for an hour to retrain on the 20 most popular frequently asked questions
- As they are “loyal” they will probably agree especially if they know they are learning something, and you can reward them by organising a barbeque and drinks afterwards
- At the end of every month leading up to June, hold a fun “pop quiz” and give out rewards to people who get most of the answers right – this can be used as your measure of success
Your strategy to achieve this goal can then be simply written as: “Organise a weekly training session for key staff and provide rewards for them during the training.”
In the example above, I actually wrote down how I would implement the strategy.
In the interests of time, you don’t have to do this. But remembering that Perfection is the enemy of Progress, you don’t have to write them all down and just write the strategy in a sentence or phrase that you can remember and move on.
After lunch, you will spend more time to remember and write down some detailed steps to implement your strategies.
Now, you may end up with a couple of strategies for one goal from time to time. This is fine.
However, if you end up with more than 10 or 12 strategies to implement to complete your maximum of 8 goals, I believe you will be over-reaching.
Some of those strategies may in fact be the fulfilment of longer-term aspects of the goal. In other words, you may only be able to really get to a half-way milestone on some of your goals and the complete goal can only be completed in the next year.
Have patience in building your business, and you will build it more certainly and stronger.
You should now be at 12 or 12.30 PM and you can stop for a half-hour lunch.
ACTION PLANNING STRATEGIES
After lunch, we are going to spend a whole 2 hours to work on detailing your strategies!
So that you don’t forget some of the ideas you worked past in the session just before lunch, review the strategies you wrote down and make some short notes about the ideas you had when you were brainstorming them. In the example above, you may have thought of the weekly training sessions and justified it to yourself that your employees would accept the extra burden – but now is the time to explain it fully so that you can explain the necessity to them later, building on their loyalty.
Don’t spend too long – just enough to capture the earlier ideas.
Then, take each strategy and write down the steps you need to take to implement the strategy.
Write down in logical order the actions that need to be taken.
To ensure that you focus on the outcome rather than just taking an action, write next to each action what the required result should be. For example, next to the action “Ask key service staff to stay behind every Thursday night for an hour to retrain on the 20 most popular frequently asked questions” write down “Every identified staff member attends and learns the answers to 2 FAQ’s every week”.
The activity won’t just happen so note who is responsible for making it happen.
And then, most important of all, write down a deadline for when the action should be completed and the outcome achieved.
Here is an example of an Action Plan template:
You can download a copy of the template here.
You should complete the action plans for your 6 to 12 strategies by about 3.30 PM
AFTERNOON COFFEE BREAK
You can now take a well-deserved 20 to 30 minute coffee break!
This is a “long” coffee break because you have been writing constantly for nearly 8 hours. Your brain and body deserve a stretch, so have a coffee and go for a short walk around the venue to get some fresh air, but make sure you’re back and ready to start the last stretch by about 4 PM.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
I always believe that you should not leave the site of great work until you have got that piece of work ready to use it.
So, for the next hour, we are going to organise your notes and thoughts into a logical order, and, if you had time today, re-write some of your quick notes and ideas into whole paragraphs and chapter sections.
At worst, we want you to be in a position where your notes and ideas are in the right order to expand on later and to work on your budget later.
Before we begin, a quick word about budgets.
Your Business Plan will need a budget to cost your actions and to forecast any increased income from carrying out your strategies.
If you are good with your accounts or financially trained, you can work on your budget for the next 12 months yourself after you have written your Business Plan in expanded form.
However, if you are not financially trained, I suggest that you work with your accountant to identify the financial effects of your planned actions and prepare the budget separately.
Now, in order to get your plan together, the process has been to:
- identify where you want to go,
- understand where you are now,
- set some goals, and
- devise strategies to implement to get there.
That is the logical order of thinking you need to follow to arrive at this position.
However, that is not the order in which your Business Plan is to be read.
In order to read and follow a Business Plan, the reader expects to:
- understand the overall outcomes (the Vision) but then to understand, in order,
- the goals set,
- the strategies to attain those goals and
- the detailed steps needed to implement those strategies.
So, we are going to organise your work into the following “chapters”:
- The Vision
- The Four Perspectives of the Vision
- The Goals
- The Strategies
- The Action Plans
- The Budget
- Appendices (all the other stuff)
Once you have done that, start re-writing any quick notes in that order into readable paragraphs and more detail. You can do this later, as long as you know what is left to do when you re-start.
If you get to this stage by about 5 PM you will be ready to complete the extended and readable Business Plan in another session, which shouldn’t take more than another 1 or 2 hours.
Before you leave the site of this great work, write down what you have to do to finish this off, and schedule 2 hours in the next week to do it.
Or, I guess if you’re so focused and goal-driven, you could write on until 7 PM!
THE END, ALMOST!
Well done, for all practical purposes you have completed your Business Plan for the next 12 months.
Investing a day to prepare your 12-month Business Plan will provide a great Return on Investment. You should be a lot clearer on the ultimate place you want your business to be at, what success in that place means to you, and a clear direction to take to get there, as well as what to do in the next 12 months to start that journey.
Having this clarity will make day-to-day decisions a lot easier.
“I have an opportunity to sell another product, should I take it?”
Will this new product help you get to your Vision faster or more easily?
“Which candidate should I hire for the salesperson’s position?”
Which of the candidates will align to the Vision faster and better and help work toward it? Which of the candidates have the skill and experience to carry out some of the strategies?”
Your completed 12-month Business Plan will also provide the framework for setting priorities because you know what are the important goals you need to attain.
“Should I work on the sales system or on the employee system first?”
Which one will help to attain a goal that you have set this year as the milestone to drive to your ultimate Vision? Can the other be safely left to next year?
You will have done a great job writing your Business Plan but it’s not over yet.
Now you have to implement it.
Now, if after reading this article you think you need to be guided through this process in real-time, you should learn more about our One Day Business Plan online workshop program. It is an online training program designed as a real-time workshop so that you download worksheets, watch introductory videos about each stage, and then follow an audio recording leading you in each step along the way. You can learn more about it here.
And don’t forget – if you haven’t already, make sure that you get my articles full of valuable tools and resources to help you grow your business delivered directly to your inbox.
See you next week.
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